SEO, localisation

Localising keywords: Why simply translating your search terms is the wrong approach

If you’re considering rolling out your website or corporate blog in different countries and different languages, it’s vital that you localise your keywords for each country and each language. In this article, we’ll explain why this is so important – and how to approach keyword localisation.

Beitrag verfasst von Maxi Weber
Date: February 7, 2024 Reading time: est. 8 Min.

Keywords are an essential element of search engine optimisation and an indispensable part of any SEO strategy. And, if we’re rolling out a website across several countries and translating it into several languages, surely we can simply translate search terms directly? Well, not really. Instead, it’s best to localise your keywords for each target market.

At a glance

  • The aim of keyword localisation is to determine the best keywords for each target region so that potential customers can find you.
  • When you localise your keywords, it’s important that you take linguistic, market-specific and cultural factors into account.
  • In some cases, you may need to conduct a new round of international keyword research and copywriting for your target market.

Why you should define specific keywords for each country and language

Do Spanish users search online for winter boots the same way as German users? Do users in the USA use the same terms to search for garage doors as users in the UK? Although these examples might sound odd, they illustrate a key challenge of website localisation: how users in a given target market search for products and services online is heavily influenced by language and culture. User behaviour varies from country to country – even between countries that share the same language. So, the best approach is to tailor your keywords to each target market and localise your website content accordingly.

If you choose to translate your search terms word-for-word into another language, your website might not appear in the search results at all. In fact, you might fail to engage your target group entirely.

Selecting suitable keywords and developing an individual keyword set for each target country is certainly a challenge. Ultimately, it means taking into account the interests of different stakeholders and, at the same time, reconciling these interests with the conditions, search behaviour and linguistic characteristics of different target markets.

If you want to exploit the full potential of your target market and address your target audience in their native language, it’s vital that you turn to SEO specialists who are native speakers of the target language.

Translated vs localised keywords – in three  examples

Example 1: Fire doors

The same search term can have very different search volumes in different countries. Take the keyword “fire door”, for example, which might be of interest to a company working in safety technology and door systems. In the UK, the term “fire door” has an average monthly search volume of 16,700.

German (DE) keyword Monthly search volume
Fire door 11.800
English (UK) keyword Monthly search volume
fire protection door 40
fire doors 16.700
fireproof doors 710

The simplest, most literal translation for “fire door” would be “Brandtür” – but this only returns a search volume of 30 searches per month. However, professional keyword localisation would identify two synonyms with higher search volumes: “Feuerschutztür” (4,000) and “Brandschütztur” (12,200). This means they are far more effective keywords.

Example 2: How to get my website to the top of Google

Let’s take another search term: “How to get my website to the top of Google”, which has a monthly search volume of 770. This long-tail keyword would be ideal for a blog post outlining tips and best practices – for the operator of a marketing platform, for example.

German (DE) keyword Monthly search volume
How to get my website to the top of Google 1.200
English (UK) keyword Monthly search volume
Improve google ranking 220
how to get your website to the top of google 710
how to get my website on top of google search 710

If you tried to have that blog post translated for use on your German website, a translator without any SEO expertise might opt for a literal translation like “Website bei Google nach oben bringen”. However, with just 10 searches per month, this is definitely not the right choice. Instead, a better option would be “Google-Ranking verbessern” (literally “improve Google ranking”), which has a far superior average monthly search volume at 1,300.

Example 3: Brits don’t make school cones!

Local traditions also influence the choice of appropriate keywords and content for a website. Our final example shows that just because a topic is relevant in one country doesn’t mean its relevance is universal. In Germany, for example, it’s entirely normal for children to receive a large, brightly decorated paper cone filled with sweets, chocolate and stationery – called a “Schultüte” – for their first day at school. This means it’s entirely reasonable for a German online arts and crafts store to put together an article explaining how to make one of these cones at home. After all, some 27,800 Germans enter “Schultüte basteln” into Google each month. However, given that this is not a widespread tradition, localising this topic would make little sense from an SEO perspective. Not only would it be a strange choice for a UK website, analysis shows that almost zero British users search for “make a school cone”.

These three examples clearly show that, to make sure your website achieves the desired success in your target market, you must always tailor your keywords – and, potentially, your website content in general – to the search and purchasing behavior in each country to reflect the linguistic and cultural specificities of the target market.

SEO localisation

Five tips for keyword localisation – what matters most

So, we know that localising keywords is first and foremost about finding suitable search terms for each target country. How you should approach keyword localisation largely depends on the company and the starting situation. However, there are several aspects that apply to every project:

1. Don’t translate search terms word-for-word

In many cases, keywords simply cannot be translated from one language into another without some form of adaptation. This is because users in different countries search for products and services differently due to cultural and linguistic factors. You should always check that your keywords are suitable for your target market.

2. Analyse the market, competition and search behaviour in each target country

Take a look at your high-ranking competitors: how are their pages structured? And what topics do they cover? Examine their websites closely, analyse the keywords they use and take note of the content they provide. This can often provide vital insights for your own website and your keyword strategy.


Are you considering having your website translated? Would you need country-specific keyword research? You should review your content ahead of time and determine which topics are likely to be irrelevant for your new target market. This could be specific topics – like in our Schultüte/school cone example – but also content about local public holidays or country-specific regulations.

While Google is the undisputed Number 1 on a global scale, the rise of ChatGPT has led to an increase in the popularity of Bing – Microsoft’s search engine – and Yahoo. In China, Sogou recently displaced Baidu as the country’s most popular search engine. However, for mobile use only, Baidu is still the world’s second most popular search engine. In Russia, users primarily rely on Yandex RU.

3. Choose native speakers with SEO expertise

Remember: Your online copy is primarily intended for users. When it comes to your products and services, it’s not Google and other search engines you need to impress – it’s your target audience. Your texts need to be fluent, highly readable, linguistically correct and take culture-specific characteristics into account. Incorporate insights from local employees, as they will be experts in the industry-specific terminology and everyday business language. Keyword localisation and SEO localisation should ideally be carried out by native speakers with SEO expertise and knowledge of the local market – as this is the only way to ensure your website effectively meets complex requirements and delivers the desired outcomes.

4. Use professional keyword tools

We live in an age dominated by data. When it comes to drawing up an SEO strategy, this is a huge advantage for your company. It allows you to scrutinise the search volume for each keyword in each country – and thereby find out what your target group is actually searching for. This data-based, external perspective of your company and your service offering is crucial to successful SEO. It’s essential that you localise your keywords using professional keyword tools like KWFinder, Sistrix, Dragon Metrics and Google’s Keyword Planner.These tools enable you to identify relevant primary and secondary keywords and compare their search volumes.

5. Create localised (or even new!) content for your keywords

Once you’ve established your keyword set for your country-specific website page, the next task is integrating your search terms. You need to decide whether it’s possible to localise your existing content or whether it would be best to create entirely new copy. There are typically three scenarios:


Keywords correspond to the original page:

If the new, localised keywords set for your target language by and large matches up with the original keyword set and the source content, the preferred method is SEO localisation. This involves incorporating the relevant keywords in key locations, with the structure and content primarily based on the original version – taking account of market-specific terminology, local guidelines and formalities.


Different keywords for the target market:

If the keywords for your new target market differ from those on the original page, or if your market and competitor analysis identifies other topics as relevant to your target market, minor adjustments might not be sufficient. In this case, it might be worth re-writing the copy on that country-specific page. This way, you can ensure that the content always corresponds to the search intent behind the keywords. The defined search terms specify what information users are searching for. It’s important that you consider your content based on your keyword strategy. Is it really suitable for your target audience in that market? What other topics do I need to address? And which content would I be better off leaving out?


New keywords and fresh content needed:

If you don’t have a source text suitable for application to another country and context, before you can embark on content creation you need to carry out international keyword research. This is decisive in ensuring that the content you offer aligns with the specific needs and search behaviour of users in your target market.

Digression: Keyword localisation vs international keyword research

What is the difference between keyword localisation and international keyword research? In a nutshell, keyword localisation relies on an existing keyword set, while international keyword research identifies new, market-specific keywords for new content.
If you have a keyword set for your source language, the first step is usually localising these keywords. If you notice that the search intent differs in the target market, it might be worth engaging in further international keyword research and analysis in order to tailor your website content effectively to your new market.

Localising keywords – an important step towards international visibility

If you decide to roll out your website in new markets and want to make your website visible to a new target audience, it’s essential that you choose relevant search terms.

As our examples show, word-for-word translation of your keyword set is not usually sufficient. Instead, keyword localisation is key to tailoring your website as effectively as possible to the specific requirements and search behaviours of the target audience.

The combination of market analysis, native SEO experts and professional keywords will put you in the best possible position for successful keyword localisation.

Overall, carefully selecting and tailoring your keywords lays the foundations for a successful SEO strategy and, in turn, a globally oriented website. Successfully localised keywords are a crucial element in SEO localisation and content creation projects to ensure that your company achieves maximum visibility in new markets.

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Maxi Weber

Maxi joined Kolibri’s Content team in 2020 and plays her part in a whole host of B2C and B2B projects – because she just loves the variety! She particularly enjoys everything related to topic planning, creative content formats and international projects. Before she came to Kolibri, she studied Literature and Media Science and held a number of editorial positions supporting everything from roving reporters to children’s TV. If she’s not busy crafting copy, you’ll find her delving into popular culture or running around the Alster.

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